Karen Moore, BEng BCom in Mechanical Engineering & Business Management - Knowledge Management Consultant for KorteQ Ltd
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KAREN: Hi. My name is Karen Moore. I graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2004 from the Mechanical Engineering and Business Management course. It's a four year course and I graduated with a BEng and BCom, Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Commerce. I now work for a company called, KorteQ, which is Management Consultancy.
INT: Can you tell us about why you decided to study Mechanical Engineering at Birmingham?
KAREN: I was always more interested in school in the sort of maths and physics side of things. I wanted to keep those two together, just in case I wanted to go onto do something more engineering orientated. Whilst I was doing the Physics A Level, I got involved in an Insight Course, which is sort of geared up to give you a bit of a taster about what engineering could be like. I did that at Brunel University. I'd also got involved in WISE which is specifically for getting women into engineering, because there is a bit of a drive to increase the female contingent. And, actually, when I finished, when I was getting towards the end of my A Levels, I decided that Mechanical Engineering was what I wanted to do, so that's obviously when I applied for it. I also, at the same time applied for aeronautical engineering. It's very important on your UCAS form, if you are going to go into engineering that you have that sort of on your full form, so you know that you are taking it seriously and that is really what you want to do. I chose Birmingham because I really liked the university, itself. I'd come here for a visit and it's a really lovely place to be. It's also got a fantastic reputation for the engineering, so that's what I did specifically want to do. Furthermore, it was great that it had the opportunity to do a course that was engineering and business, I could combine the two and keep my options open.
INT: Did you have any experience in engineering before you started your course at Birmingham.
KAREN: Yes, obviously, I've already mentioned the Insight Course which gave me a bit of a taster. But, I was really keen to actually get some experience in engineering industry before I started the course, for two reasons, really, one is, I wanted to check that it was something that I did enjoy, actually in a real job. And secondly, that, when you come to graduating and you want to get an engineering job, a lot of the companies are very keen that you do have experience. If you don't take the opportunities to have a year out or do work experience in summer placements then, you are going to be potentially on a back foot when it comes to applying for a job as a graduate. I actually undertook the, what's called, Year in Industry Scheme, which is an official set up that's actually based around trying to get post A Level students and pre university students into engineering organisations. I undertook my year in industry at British Energy which is based in Gloucester and they are responsible for a lot of the nuclear power stations across the company. I was actually undertaking stress analysis, whilst I was there and I had that on my CV. When I came to apply for some summer placements, I ended up working at Rolls Royce and, again, in the stress analysis department. I did that for two summers and that had quite a lot of experience in that area.
INT: How did you get your current job at KorteQ and what do you do?
KAREN: Well, it all started from the fact that I'd done two summer work placements at Rolls Royce. After I'd graduated, because I'd had the experience there, already, they offered me a placement on their graduate scheme and I was working in the Bristol office. Whilst I was working there, I undertook three to four month placements in various different areas of the business. I was focused more in that period on the services side rather than actually within the engineering. I'd already made the transition into services. One of the placements that I undertook whilst I was there was within the Knowledge Management arena at Rolls Royce. Rolls Royce have a very good Knowledge Management Department and they are sort of renowned within the aerospace industry for being very good at managing their knowledge. I got very very interested in this topic and it happened around the time that my boss, who I was working for was in the process of setting up his own business as a Knowledge Management consultancy. He was a speaker at a number of conferences and he'd been approached by lots of other companies saying, we also need help in this area, so he spotted a gap in the market. I was lucky enough to make the transition with him into KorteQ and that was where I started and I've been in the job now for around two years.
INT: What exactly is Knowledge Management and what does it involve on a day-to-day basis?
KAREN: I think the best way of explaining it is to provide an example. A lot of the organisations that we work with have people who are coming up to retirement age, who have, potentially been with the company for a very long period of time, twenty, thirty years in some cases. Coming up to retirement with all that experience, they might actually just leave the company and company might then be left without that knowledge, not knowing that potentially that person was the only person with that experience and they no longer have that. So it's about making sure that you are imbedding processes, ways of working, so that, people can share their experiences and help them sort of evolve their cultures so that they are moving away from the knowledge power type of situation.
The sorts of things that I'd be doing on a day to day basis involved training people up in techniques for managing their knowledge, as well as coaching them through sort of various processes that we have as a company. There is also, we would potentially go in and do a piece of strategy work, so look at the organisation as a whole and try and align solutions to their business requirements.
Being a start up company as well, I also have an opportunity to get involved in other aspects of the business, such as actually developing the business and trying to sort of get more clients on board. There is also a lot of client relationship management and IP development as well.
INT: Would you say it's important to have an engineering degree to do the work that you are doing?
KAREN: Definitely. The companies that we actually work with are all in the engineering field. And we often talk to many people who are experts and very knowledgeable people within engineering about various concepts, so it's really important for me to be able to understand what they are talking about.
INT: Have you got any tips for current students on how to get the most out of university?
KAREN: What's really important to remember is that the degree is incredibly important, but it's not all there is to life at university. It's important to gain a sort of wide variety of experiences and take the opportunities that are available to you. That's partly why I joined Birmingham, because it's got excellent opportunities. I think it's really important to build up your CV. But it's not all about building up your CV, that isn't the only reason you should do these things. But showing how you can be sociable and how you can kind of work in teams through sporting activities. I, personally did the intermural hockey with my department, Mechanical Engineering. I actually took the opportunity to learn golf through the Munroe Centre and there is loads and loads of activities like that that you can do. I also was very involved with the Mechanical Engineering Social Society which is actually called, James Watt Undergraduate Society - JOGS for short. I was involved from a treasurer point of view, initially and then I moved onto the president side of things. And it's just a great way to actually make friends and make networks of people and just have a really great time. I'm actually involved with the company that I'm working with at the moment, KorteQ on the recruitment side. We receive lots and lots of fantastic academic CVs. And often, it comes down to the types of other activities that people have been involved in and making the most of their experiences.
INT: According to your experience, what would you say are the main differences between working for a large company and a smaller enterprise?
KAREN: I think that there are pros and cons for both. From working in a large organisation, I'd say that you get a really good variety of experience, especially, for example on the Rolls Royce Graduate Scheme, you had an opportunity to move around departments and get a sort of overview of lots of things that were going on. And obviously, there is the job security and things like that. Working for a smaller organisation, I've personally found more rewarding, you get much more sort of responsibility. You get a broader experience of actually sort of running a business and how all the sort of different aspects that have to combine in order to make it successful. It's been especially interesting working for a start up company and having done in my business degree, writing a small business plan myself and so, seeing it in practice has been really good.
INT: Would you say it's more difficult to find work experience and permanent work with smaller enterprises than larger ones?
KAREN: I think that the larger organisations have put themselves out there much more so. Certainly within engineering, there are a range of companies that you know intuitively will be taking on summer placements such as Rolls Royce and Shell, those type of industries. That doesn't mean to say that smaller and small to medium size enterprises aren't offering summer placements or jobs. You just have to be a bit more proactive about it. For example, in KorteQ, last year, we weren't actually advertising for a summer placement. We had an applicant who asked us whether we were taking on people for the summer and it just so happened that we actually needed an extra pair of hands on deck and he joined us for the summer. So, actually, you've just got to be a bit more enterprising and a bit more proactive.
INT: Are there any general skills that you learned during your studies at university that you found useful in your job at KorteQ?
KAREN: Definitely. And although it sounds like a bit of a cliche, the team working aspect is really important, certainly within the Mechanical Engineering Course. We had a lot of opportunities to work in teams that you didn't get a chance to actually choose yourself, which obviously reflects on how it operates in the real world. As you get the chance to undertake activities in a team role, you actually understand more about how you can make the most of your abilities to make the team work most efficiently. I think that's really important to actually get that practice whilst at university. Another opportunity that I got to do, whilst undertaking the mechanical engineering course was presentations. So many people that I've spoken to since graduating from other universities never got the opportunity to ever present anything to people. And then, when they get into the real world you often have to do that. I think it's really important that you take those opportunities and make the most of them and actually just put yourself out there and give it a go. Also, I have to be able to talk to people at all levels within the organisation and I think being able to communicate to your peers as well as your lecturers, efficiently and using opportunities such as the social societies to practice your social skills is a really good thing to do.